Electrophysiology of ionotropic GABA receptors

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2021 Jul;78(13):5341-5370. doi: 10.1007/s00018-021-03846-2. Epub 2021 Jun 1.


GABAA receptors are ligand-gated chloride channels and ionotropic receptors of GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in vertebrates. In this review, we discuss the major and diverse roles GABAA receptors play in the regulation of neuronal communication and the functioning of the brain. GABAA receptors have complex electrophysiological properties that enable them to mediate different types of currents such as phasic and tonic inhibitory currents. Their activity is finely regulated by membrane voltage, phosphorylation and several ions. GABAA receptors are pentameric and are assembled from a diverse set of subunits. They are subdivided into numerous subtypes, which differ widely in expression patterns, distribution and electrical activity. Substantial variations in macroscopic neural behavior can emerge from minor differences in structure and molecular activity between subtypes. Therefore, the diversity of GABAA receptors widens the neuronal repertoire of responses to external signals and contributes to shaping the electrical activity of neurons and other cell types.

Keywords: GABAA subtypes; Neuronal inhibition; Neurotransmitter; Phasic currents; Synaptic receptor; Tonic activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid